Home > Uncategorized > NPR and NJTV Parrot Penn Propaganda On Pollution

NPR and NJTV Parrot Penn Propaganda On Pollution

All the spin, self promotion, and feel good measures $100 million can buy

Farm Bureau Sits on Murderers Row, seeks Regulatory Rollbacks: (L-R) Hal Bozarth (Chemistry Council); Lobbyist (Farm Bureau); Michael Engenton (Chamber of Commerce); & Dave Brogan (NJ Business and Industry Assc.). Jim Benton NJ Petroleum Council (rear) looks on from the shadows. (3/18/10)

Farm Bureau Sits on Murderers Row, seeks Regulatory Rollbacks: (L-R) Hal Bozarth (Chemistry Council); Lobbyist (Farm Bureau); Michael Engenton (Chamber of Commerce); & Dave Brogan (NJ Business and Industry Assc.). Jim Benton NJ Petroleum Council (rear) looks on from the shadows. (3/18/10)

[Correction in text below on Penn funding]

[Update below]

This is a brief followup to yesterday’s criticism of the NJ Spotlight coverage of the Penn Foundation’s Delaware Watershed Initiative.

Long after I posted that, I got a distribution email from Julia Somers of the Highlands Coalition, bragging about the media coverage they generated on receipt of the Penn money.

It’s always all about the money: sports car rallies, pub crawls, golf outings – fundraising ad nauseum.

Julia was sending media coverage because that is a key “metric” non-profits use to demonstrate performance to their Foundation funders. So next time you read them quoted in a story, you can rest assured that it’s self promotional manufactured “news” and highly spun)):

All:  Yesterday, the NJ Highlands Coalition coordinated a press conference on behalf of all 16 of the NJ non-profit organizations that participate in the William Penn-supported Delaware River Watershed Initiative, announcing the second Phase of the project.Links to the TV, radio, and print stories are below:

https://www.njtvonline.org/news/video/environmental-groups-maintain-momentum-preserving-delaware-river/ , which also ran on NPR.


So I hit the link on the NJTV/NPR video and almost spewed on my keyboard! It is far worse than the Spotlight coverage!

Check this out: The NJTV piece begins by quoting Phillipsburg resident Laura Oltman about specific flooding, over-development, and industrial pollution problems: (my emphasis)

“For us here on the Delaware, flooding is the number one issue with stormwater runoff, which contributes a lot to flooding. And then the other thing that’s an issue is development. Allowing people to build, and build and build, now where’s the water going to go?” asked Phillipsburg resident Laura Oltman.

From Oltman’s balcony, there’s a clear view of the Delaware River. She says over the years the water has also been polluted by sewage treatment facilities, paper mills in the area dumping chemicals and garbage being thrown right in. All sorts of old bottles are visible as you walk from her home closer to the water.

“It’s hard to know what’s in a big river where there’s been so much industrial pollution over the years,” said Oltman.

Ms. Oltman did a good job in characterizing the problems and identifying their causes.

But after that, the story veers into a classic non-sequitur, as the piece describes the Penn Foundation initiative.

I say non-sequitur, because the Penn Foundation  initiative DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS Oltman identified.

Before I get to specifics, keep in mind that Penn Foundation is funding “bottom up” “voluntary” “local” “action” by private individuals and is not funding groups to work on any government planning or regulatory issues.

That government planning and regulatory work is derided by slogans as “top down” “command and control” “inflexible” “one size fits all”  “unfunded mandates” “bureaucratic red tape”, et al (i.e. things like DEP water quality monitoring data or assessments, DEP water quality standards, DEP water pollution discharge permits, DEP water quality management plans, DEP stormwater regulations and permits, Highlands or Pinelands management plan requirements, local zoning, etc).

The biggest threats to the Delaware watershed are climate change, fracking, and pipelines. Remarkably, Penn is not funding work on any of those issues!

In addition to not funding government related work or the primary threats to the watershed, it is just as revealing to look at the groups that Penn Foundation is not funding.

There are tremendous grassroots, regional, watershed, and statewide groups, with thousands of active members, working very effectively to protect the Delaware watershed from fracking, pipelines and climate change. Those groups won major victories in the NY fracking ban and DRBC moratorium, such as Delaware Riverkeeper,  Sierra Club, Environment NJ, Catskill Mountainkeeper and many others. NONE OF THOSE GROUPS RECEIVE A DIME OF PENN MONEY. ASK YOURSELF WHY IS THAT?

[Correction – 4/12/18 – I just received a reply from Penn to my question about the basis for the “non-regulatory” rhetoric they used and the NJ Spotlight characterization of that.

I stand by my analysis but must correct the error above regarding Penn funding – Delaware Riverkeeper, ENJ, and Sierra Club (Pennsylvania, not NJ) receive Penn funding. Penn suggested I review their entire grant funding. So, in fact, a quick review of all Penn grants confirms my analysis. More to come on Penn’s reply and their overall funding. ~~~end correction]

Instead, Penn funds “moderate” “conservation” groups they can control and divert from key issues, such that powerful corporate and political interests go unchallenged. The Penn funded groups not only divert activist and media attention, they undermine the more effective groups, cut deals, and make compromises (a post forthcoming on the most recent example of this in the sham renewable energy green cover provided for the PSEG nuclear bailout -which we predicted back in a January post: “Nuclear Cynicism”).

Now to the specifics of Ms. Oltman’s observations:

1) Industrial pollution – Penn is not funding any of that or any work on “point source” pollution. That is the exclusive job of DEP government regulation. This would include the specific wastewater discharges mentioned from sewage treatment plants, paper mills, and chemical facilities. That’s more than half of the pollution – in many NJ watersheds the large majority.

[Note: Just one example of how corrupt the Penn initiative is: in a “case study” on protecting Sussex County water quality, consider that they partner with the Sussex County MUA (SCUMA), the operator of the sewage treatment plant discharging to the Wallkill River. Of course, SCUMA likes the “Stewardship Report” bogus claim that “up top 80% of the phosphorus” pollution comes from agriculture. That’s the big lie they use to avoid NJ DEP NJPDES phosphorus permit effluent limits and upgraded biological treatment requirements and avoid any reduction in pollution loads and the huge excess NJPDES permit capacity they were given, which will fuel future development. Meanwhile, farmers – alleged source of 80% of the problem – escape DEP regulation for non-point pollution. Penn is supporting the worst of all worlds. They can’t be that stupid, so they must be corrupt.~~~ end note]]

Given NJ’s sprawling development patterns, virtually all watersheds have significant point source discharge pollution loadings – with the exception of a handful of small watersheds, NJ is not an agricultural dominated state like parts of Pennsylvania, where Penn Foundation likes to work on a voluntary basis with farmers. The agricultural community is noxiously hostile to environmental regulation. At the federal level, farmers led the charge to weaken the Clean Water Act based on a campaign of lies and misinformation. Here in NJ, farmers sued to block the Highlands Act and entered into a legal settlement with the Christie administration that led to rolling back the Highlands septic density standard. Again, the farmers’ attacks on protective land use restrictions and water quality measures were driven by lies and misinformation, greed (development rights) and a warped anti-regulatory “property rights” view rejected by the Courts.

So when Penn and their well paid partners tout their “voluntary”, “cooperative”, “bottom up”, and “flexible” work with these nice guy small family farmers, you are hearing myths – a crock of shit in a well funded corporate campaign – that was originated by the infamous “Powell memo” – that is advancing an anti-regulatory ideological agenda. Here’s a succinct summary from today’s NY Times story on Trump EPA Administrator Pruitt:

Since taking the helm of E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt has barnstormed the country, meeting with farmers, coal miners and local leaders and promising an end to his predecessor’s regulatory approach.

(the NY Times won’t tell you about the corporate origin in the Powell memo – curiously, main stream journalist Bill Moyers does – but, to their credit, the NYT has written about the current version, led by Steve Bannon’s rhetoric of dismantling the “administrative state”).

Knowingly or not, Penn and their Partners are supporting that agenda.

And if you think I exaggerate, read this history  from EPA – the conservation groups have been fighting public health and environmental regulations on behalf of corporate polluters for decades:

During the past 15 years, the [Conservation] Foundation has also taken an unusually strong interest in toxics and pollution control. For example, Reilly was instrumental in the 1984 founding of Clean Sites, Inc., the public-private partnership that broke the logjam in hazardous waste site cleanups.

Reilly himself confirms his pro-industry leanings:

William Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under President George H. W. Bush, told me, “I had a good reputation with industry—I was on the board of DuPont after E.P.A. But you’re supposed to meet with everybody.

  Who is Clean Sites? “Clean Sites, Inc.” is a notorious corporate front group:

Clean Sites Inc. was a U.S.-based corporate front group which was described by Mark Megalli and Andy Friedman in their landmark review on the use of front groups in the U.S. as “concerned about the costs to its sponsors of toxic cleanups.” [1]

The group now appears to be defunct. The last financial return for the 501(c)(3) registered non-profit group was filed for the year ending June 30, 2000. It revealed that the group had no income in that year. However, in the decade before, Clean Sites had run a significant operation.

In an incredible historical irony, Obama EPA head Lisa Jackson, who not only accepted a college scholarship from Shell Oil, began her career at Clean Sites, Inc.

She [Jackson] worked for a year and a half at Clean Sites, a nonprofit that tried to accelerate cleanup of toxic sites.[5]

To claim that the mission of Clean Sites, Inc. was to “accelerate the cleanup of toxic sites” is a blatant lie (see above from Sourcewatch and below from an internal CIS strategy document). The writers at Wiki not only scrubs inconvenient facts, they spin them too. So here is even more documentation, from the pen of Clean Sites’ President:

A September 1, 1991 front page New York Times article titled “Experts Question Staggering Costs of Toxic Cleanups,” reports that “environmental experts” are questioning whether the U.S. government’s program to clean up hazardous waste dumps is worth the estimated $300 to $700 billion cost. The environmental experts referred to in the article say it isn’t. But who exactly are these environmental experts? One is Tom Grumbly, who the Times reporter identified as an “environmentalist who is president of Clean Sites, a non-profit organization in Virginia that advises communities on hazardous waste cleanups.”

Actually, Grumbly, as he himself pointed out in a September 11, 1991 letter to the Times, does not represent an environmentalist constituency. Clean Sites is a corporate front group, concerned about the costs to its sponsors of toxic cleanups.

Two decades later, Jackson would lead the effort as NJ DEP Commissioner to privatize NJ’s State toxic site cleanup program, a radical policy victory that her corporate bosses at Clean Site, Inc. could not have dreamed of, even in the deregulatory and privatization driven public private partnership days of the “reinventing” Bill Clinton Administration (see the NY Times version  and then read my version of that story).

I wonder if the folks at Apple, where Jackson now serves as a VP for Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives are aware of that history? Jackson’s Apple Bio doesn’t mention any of it, and certainly doesn’t even suggest the continuity of Shell scholarship, Clean Sites, Inc., to leading the charge on privatization of NJ toxic site cleanup law. I wonder if she disclosed that stuff on her resume?

And if you want even more evidence, read their own words to see how Foundations work with corporate interests – just look at the cynical document written for the Directors of Clean Sites Inc., the institutional mission and covert development strategy, and the corporate interests they represented:

CSI is to be funded by contributions from industry and from foundations. The strategy has been to show a strong chemical industry commitment which is then extended to other industries that generate hazardous waste and then to approach foundations to request support for a very specific piece of CSI activity, probably the Technical Review function where independence of function should probably be matched by some “independent” funding.

Of course, it is likely that as CSI develops, companies who utilize its services will contribute to the operation.

Note how “independent” is put in quote. Can it get more cynical than that?

Penn is playing a more sophisticated variant if this game.

2) Overdevelopment – Allowable development is determined by local zoning. But Penn is not working on local zoning, because it is governmental and regulatory. Penn prefers voluntary measures, supported by slogans, like sustainable design, sustainable development, resiliency, et al.

Locally zoned allowable development is constrained by a suite of DEP State regulations governing infrastructure capacity and location, pollution discharge, freshwater wetlands restrictions, stream buffer riparian protections, surface and groundwater protections, et al – as well as regional land use controls, e.g. Highlands Master Plan

Penn is not working on any of that, because it is governmental and regulatory.

3) Flooding – impervious surfaces (development) and destruction of wetlands and natural vegetation have the greatest influence on generation of stormwater (volume and rate). DEP and local stormwater ordinances set regulatory management requirements for stormwater. But Penn is not funding work on that.

4) Non -point source pollution – see above about contribution of point versus non-point pollution in NJ.

Penn is working on this smaller faction of the problem, but their work is severely limited in scope (geographically) and limited in land use sector (i.e. work with farmers versus industrial and commercial non-point source pollution) and reliant on ineffective voluntary and unfunded tools. The large majority of phosphorus loadings to most NJ waterways is from wastewater discharge, not agricultural sources.

When you quantify total phosphorus loadings and allocate loadings to point and non-point sources (like in DEP’s TMDL program) and then look at the technical and economic feasibility and cost effectiveness of load reductions, its clear that stricter DEP phosphorus effluent limits and biological treatment requirements at the sewage treatment plant is the more effective  strategy, bolstered by stronger land use restrictions to prevent increases in non-point loads. But Penn is not working on any of this, because it is regulatory.

As I wrote, amazingly, the most effective solutions to the problems are EXACTLY THE GOVERNMENT REGULATION THA PENN REJECTS.

NJTV reported (the numbers in the text are mine, placed there to code a response to each below)

That’s why the William Penn Foundation is donating $42 million over the next three years to protect and restore clean water in the Delaware River watershed. … The foundation has already donated $64 million over the past four years for the same efforts.

This group of conservation organizations that we support, 65 organizations in the four states, including 16 in New Jersey, are (1) protecting forests, (2)restoring farm fields, (3) working with farmers on their agricultural practices to ensure the fertilizer doesn’t run into streams and (4) working with municipalities on stormwater and flooding — all of that carries pollution into rivers,” said Johnson.

“New Jersey, as one of the 13 original colonies, has seen a lot of development and a lot of damage to our waterways, so it’s not in great shape. There are some areas that are particularly clean such as in the (5) Pinelands and the Highlands, and those are the (6) areas we’re working to make sure they stay clean,” said Jennifer Coffey, executive director for the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.

Coffey says the key to the initiative has been working in strategic places.

“We are seeing on (7) small tributaries such as in South Jersey on the Salem River, and in Hammonton, we’re starting to see improvements in water quality. There’s less nitrogen and less phosphorus flowing into the water. And we’re also seeing real benefits for people’s lives. (8) We’re seeing resolving of some local flooding issues on community roads,” said Coffey.

“(9) The 65 groups have preserved 30,000 acres of land, and they’ve (10) restored 8,000 acres of land in very targeted places in the watershed. And we’re seeing improved water quality in places where those projects actually occur,” said Johnson.

Over $100 million granted to the local work Penn supports is an obscene waste on money.

Even where the claims by Penn partners are exaggerated but partially valid, e.g. reduction of agricultural nutrient loadings, that work is better suited to and better done by Cooperative Extension Services out of Rutgers or USDA technical assistance and conservation funding programs. There is no need to spend $100 million for it!! Similarly, the Penn funded water quality monitoring work largely duplicates – not supplements – what DEP already does and can not be used for planning or regulatory purposes because it does not meet DEP QA/QC and field training requirements.

So, where to start in deconstructing all that PR from Penn Partner$ ? From the top, by the numbers:

(1) Most of the Penn funded NJ groups are NOT protecting forests. The groups that are battling to preserve forests are NOT FUNDED. Just look at Sparta Mountain and the legislative battle over forest stewardship legislation.

The HiCo and NJCF had to be asked to help local grassroots opposition to the DEP’s plans to log Sparta Mountain and other Highlands forests. Initially, those groups either supported or did not oppose forest stewardship initiatives by NJ Audubon, the Highlands Council, and NJ DEP.

(2) I don’t know what it mean to “restore a farm field”. Is that afforestation? Or planting a handful of trees and shrubs and calling it creation of early successional bird habitat? Or does that work include cutting dirty deals, like purchasing the development rights to a 100 acre portion of a property while cutting a deal to support development the other 200 acres? (think Hopewell – Scotch Road – Merrill Lynch. Or Princeton Road – BMS, et al. Tittel calls it “land for peace”. Candy Ashmum is the Grandmother of this tactic).

(3) Reforming agricultural practices, on a voluntary basis, with no subsidy funding, are dubious. Any group that makes an assertion should be asked to provide “before and after” runoff monitoring and water quality data to support their claims. I do not see that data supporting this claim, so I reject it out of hand. (and the fertilizer law merely preserved the status quo nutrient concentrations in fertilizers).

(4) I don’t know what “working with municipalities on stormwater” means. But I doubt it means down zoning and mandatory ordinances, like enforceable 300 foot stream buffers. It probably means getting Sustainable NJ to certify them “silver” or some similar crap, like conducting an Environmental Resource Inventory or Vision Plan or similar feel good measure that lacks content and enforceability and funding to implement.

(5 – 6) The Pinelands and Highlands are protected by exactly the mandatory government regulatory programs Penn rejects.

It takes chutzpah to cite the Pinelands and the Highlands as somehow the result of NJ ENGO work –

For example, I know for a fact, was personally involved at the time, that NJCF and the 4 State Highlands Coalition that preceded the NJ version, OPPOSED a campaign to seek the Highlands Act. Instead, those groups wanted the Highlands designated an “area of special concern” under the toothless State Plan. Those groups claimed that a Pinelands in the Highlands was not politically feasible and would trigger a backlash that would undermine their land preservation work.

(7) How are they protecting the small tributaries in South Jersey? What data supports claims of improved water quality? They certainly are not supporting mandatory 300 foot protective stream buffers, perhaps the most effective non-point source pollution control.

Furthermore, as I’ve documented, Penn rejected a Pinelands regional planning/regulatory model in the South Jersey Delaware Bayshore, despite the recommendations of a superb technical Report that they funded.

(8) Flooding on local roads in the Delaware Bayshore region is driven by climate change driven sea level rise (and higher storm surge).

The Penn initiative and the Penn partners – with one exception – are doing virtually nothing on climate change (on emissions mitigation or adaptation planning).

The one exception  is the Open Space Institute, who pays lip service to climate change as a rationale to support forest preservation and relies on unverified voluntary carbon markets. But preserving existing forests only preserves a status quo carbon situation – forests will continue to sequester carbon. What is required to increase carbon sequestration in forests is massive afforestation (starting with an urban forestry program to mitigate deadly heat island effects). But that is not on Penn’s $100 million plate.

(9) The claim of 30,000  acres of land preserved is 50% more than the 2020 goal of 20,000 acres cited in NJ Spotlight story.

Across the four states, the program’s land-protection efforts have included the purchase of some 19,600 acres since 2014, and an anticipated 20,000 acres in the next three years.

Conflicting factual claims undermine credibility. Penn is paying $100 million for spin, not science.

Further, in context, even the larger 30,000 acre claim is a drop in the bucket – and it is greatly exceeded by government regulatory protections.

Even worse, the location of those preserved lands is NOT STRATEGIC – IT IS SCATTERSHOT AND BASED ON WILLING SELLERS.

In contrast, C1 stream buffers and the Highlands Preservation Area are an example of strategic targeting of priority high environmental sensitivity lands. But Penn reject all that.

(10) Claims about restoring 8,000 acres in strategic locations need to be backed by evidence.

The restoration I’ve seen has been extremely small bore plantings along streams –

DEP scientists report that wetlands “restoration” is flawed and does not replace lost ecological functions.

But why spend tons of money and time restoring damage when instead you could fund work to advocate for the creation of a C1 buffer that would prevent destruction of ripartin vegetation?

So ask the big money Penn Foundation those kind of questions – especially before swallowing and parroting their press release and claim by their well fed partners.

[Update – 4/11/18 – This describes the situation and motivations perfectly, from Counterpunch:

It may play out how the PPC Dems hope, helping their party turn the House blue and putting the impeachment of on the table. But (contrary to Zeese and Flowers’ otherwise excellent reporting).  establishment Democrats are not just about “the numbers” instead of “policy positions.” Make no mistake. The Inauthentic Opposition always prefers to lose to the right than to the left, including even the (mild) left in its own party. Even if they determine that coming elections won’t fall their way unless they undertake a leftward alignment with majority progressive policy opinion, the dismal Dems will choose defeat over doing what it takes to win. As Formisamo notes, the top priority for member of the permanent political class is always to take care of themselves and their own by serving their corporate and financial masters.  That is their first and controlling objective, not serving the “virtually powerless” working-class majority or even winning elections. ~~~ end update]

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